13 top Chromebook tools for business

From collaboration apps to developer extensions, powerful add-ons open up Chromebooks for business

Get your Chromebook ready for work

Get your Chromebook ready for work

Chromebooks aren’t the anomaly in the workplace they used to be. Their easy administration, quick setup, and low learning curve have made them a successful and viable alternative to computers based on Windows or MacOS.

For many, the major knock remains that Chromebooks can’t handle more sophisticated tasks given their reliance on web apps. One of Google’s solutions to this is bringing the Play Store to Chromebooks, empowering developers to package their Android apps for Chrome OS. The selection right now is pretty small, but the new Android-on-Chrome capabilities can be effective in the right spots.

Still, extensions and web apps remain a powerful source of productivity for Chromebook users in workplace settings. While there are still shortcomings, Chromebooks are very much work-ready machines that can power through key tasks. In fact, for most day-to-day situations, you won’t miss Windows or MacOS.

Following are our choices of tools for getting down to business on Chrome OS.

[ Android is now ready for real usage in the enterprise. Read InfoWorld's in-depth guide on how to make Android a serious part of your business. | Get the best office apps for your Android device. ]

Google Apps (G Suite)
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Google Apps (G Suite)

OK, obviously Google’s applications are going to work rather well on Chrome OS. But it’s worth ensuring you have everything optimized for your use. The Explore tab is quickly becoming an essential research tool that lives off to the side in Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Also, be sure to head to the settings and enable your files to be saved offline, so you can keep working on them if you end up somewhere with a spotty internet connection.

Cloud9

Cloud9

The Cloud9 IDE was among the first tools to show that one could program code effectively from a cloud-based environment like the Chromebook. The tool has grown since it was first introduced and has evolved into a reliable development platform, with the ability to invite team members to your files so that you can work on shared code.

Cloud9 offers various subscription options depending on the size of your organization. But if you’re going solo and stay under 1GB of disk space, you can use Cloud9 for free.

Box (beta)

Box (beta)

Cloud storage player Box isn’t merely bringing another web app to Chromebooks. Instead, its implementation lets you access files stored in your Box account directly through Chrome OS’s File Manager. This eliminates what was previously a severe limitation of Chromebook, as third-party cloud services were restricted to the browser.

The Box Chrome app is still in beta. But it connects quickly and easily with your Box account with minimal issues, so it’s worth grabbing if your organization relies on Box.

HipChat
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HipChat

HipChat is a great team collaboration tool, offering chat, video calling, screen sharing, and integrations into a wide array of workplace tools. Fortunately for Chromebook users, the HipChat web app is as functional and well-designed as the dedicated applications for Windows and OS X. The Android app is also compatible with Chrome OS, giving you the ability to use it as a standalone application.

HipChat still offers a clean interface and keeps you connected with pop-up notifications and a number icon on your browser tab to indicate new messages. I’ve found at times that the web version is even better than the Windows edition, so you’re not missing any key functionality if you’re working from a Chromebook and want to stay connected to your co-workers through HipChat.

Microsoft Office
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Microsoft Office

Your options are more expansive for using Office on Chromebooks than they’ve been in the past. Google made a point of showing off Word for Android at the most recent I/O conference, and it includes an impressive number of capabilities. You can do most everyday writing and editing tasks, and the same philosophy extends to the feature set of Excel and PowerPoint.

Outlook Android on Chrome
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Outlook Android on Chrome

The Outlook app for Android is a solid performer on Chrome OS and gives you a dedicated space to focus on your email. While it’s not completely as full-featured as the Outlook application you’d use on Windows or MacOS, it does the basics well and may be a more focused option instead of the Outlook web app. Microsoft's email service can handle email from Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Yahoo, iCloud, Gmail, and IMAP.

Firefox for Android
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Firefox for Android

The idea of running a different browser on a Chromebook may sound weird. But it’s now possible thanks to the inclusion of Android apps. But doing so gives you a chance to experiment a little outside of Google’s sandbox and a way to try out a different browser if Chrome isn’t quite doing it for you as you'd prefer. Additionally, it allows you to test your website’s performance in the Android version of Firefox without the need to reach for your phone.

CIRC

CIRC

An IRC client is still essential in many organizations. CIRC is a solid option, connecting directly to any server without the need for a proxy. You’re able to use the same IRC connection across multiple devices, which is a time-saver if you move from a traditional desktop at the office to a Chromebook on the go.

The CIRC team has a full Wiki with tips and tricks if you run into issues.

ZenMate

ZenMate

Chrome is a fairly secure browser, but depending on your work requirements you may need greater security. For this, ZenMate is a good resource for Chromebooks, encrypting and securing your internet connection. It promises anonymous browsing and antivirus protection, along with the ability to access limited, blocked, or geo-restricted content. It also pledges to compress your data by up to 30 percent, which can help if you’re trying to stay under a mobile device tethering limit.

Basecamp

Basecamp 3

A lot of small and large companies use Basecamp for project collaboration. You can grab the Chrome extension or the Android app for quick access to all your projects. Basecamp is great for letting teams mark off when goals are met and assign tasks to various team members. If you rein in the available lists and tallying options that are available, it can be a lot more streamlined than at first glance. The web app is solid, but don’t discount checking out the Android version as it offers all of the key functionality in a more dedicated interface.

ZenHub for GitHub

ZenHub for GitHub

If you’re coding on a Chromebook, chances are your team’s source code lives on GitHub. A number of Chrome extensions are available for enhancing your GitHub experience, but few are as full-featured as ZenHub for GitHub.

ZenHub is a project management tool that works on top of GitHub, providing teams with drag-and-drop issue task boards and +1 feedback buttons for peer-reviewing commits, comments, and more.

Postman

Postman

Developers working with APIs will definitely appreciate Postman. This dedicated REST client for Chrome has built-in authentication helpers, supporting Basic Auth, Digest Auth, OAuth 1, and OAuth 2. With Postman, you can aggregate individual requests into collections that can then be organized and shared with other developers. You can also run collections directly from the command line or a URL. Additionally, you can create HTTP requests with various parameters to test APIs and RESTful endpoints and even capture requests using the Postman Interceptor extension -- great for debugging.

Chrome ADB

Chrome ADB

Android developers will greatly appreciate Chrome ADB, a well-built Android Debug Bridge client from Google that facilitates debugging Android devices. It allows you to debug websites in browser tabs, do web views in native Android apps, and screencast live to your development machine. For app debugging, you’ll need a device running Android 4.4 or later.